Canon EOS 5D Mark II review: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The most notable feature advantage the 5D Mark II has over its competitors is the movie-capture capability. Canon supports 1,920x1,080 at 30fps, true 1080p HD, with a mono mic built in and stereo mic input, with clips of up to 12 minutes (on a 4GB card). All things considered, it's a pretty nice implementation. Though you can't autofocus, you can adjust exposure while shooting; the optical stabilization works; and you can apply Picture Styles.

Many of the new capabilities definitely target pros: a pair of low-resolution raw formats (10 and 5.2 megapixels), more interchangeable focusing-screen options, in-camera peripheral-illumination correction to compensate for brightness nonuniformity across the image, and a silent Live View mode. There's also Face Detection AF, but it only works in Live View mode. If you do HDR work, you'll probably find the 5D Mark II's bracketing implementation a mixed bag. It's incredibly flexible compared with most--in some respects. For instance, you can bracket in any increments of 1/3, 2/3, 1, 1 1/3, 1 2/3, or 2 full stops, centered around any EV up to +/- 4 stops. Unfortunately, it limits you to three exposures where other cameras let you do five or seven. Argh.

The Mark II uses a new battery pack, the LP-E6, which seems to last a reasonably long time: it's CIPA rated at between 750 and 850 shots, depending upon temperature. It also supports some fairly advanced reporting features. For instance, you can register the packs and then the camera will track the date last used, number of shots you've taken on it since last recharge, and its ability to hold a charge, in addition to the remaining capacity on a charge status.

However, the camera's still missing some features offered by the competition. Though one doesn't use the on-camera flash as a rule in this class, it really is nice to have in an emergency. Canon also continues its tradition of not including an in-camera wireless flash controller; some traditions deserve to die. And if you want onboard image stabilization, the A900's your only option.

The 5D always felt a bit sluggish to me, despite actual performance numbers to the contrary. This camera delivers the same measured performance, but feels much zippier. And overall, it fares quite well compared with the D700. It wakes up and shoots in 0.3 second and takes between 0.3 and 0.6 second to shoot, depending upon lighting conditions. It typically runs about 0.4 second from shot to shot.

For burst shooting, however, it's the slowest of all the new models, partly because of Nikon's significantly lower resolution and Sony's doubling up on the processors to maintain burst rates. Neither its 3.8fps burst-shooting speed (unlimited JPEG/14 Raw) nor its center-intensive 9-point AF system really lends itself to seriously fast, continuous shooting of moving subjects. And if your shooting style requires lots of AF points beyond the middle quarter of the frame, this probably isn't the camera for you. But for center focusers like me, it works quite well.

I'm extremely pleased with the quality of the photos the 5D Mark II delivers. As you'd expect from a model in its price class, it renders accurate and consistent exposures and colors. Given its resolution, its noise profile is surprisingly good: no noise or noise suppression artifacts until about ISO 1600, at which point all you see is a slight bit of softening. Depending upon subject matter, photos can remain usable as high as ISO 12,800. My only quibble is with the overly warm tungsten white balance. Even the video looks and sounds good, though the mic could use a wind filter. (Click through the slide show for image samples and more discussion of photo quality.)

When I first blogged about the camera in September 2008, I commented that it "doesn't provoke the knee-jerk WANT response I expected." After shooting with it for about a month, I have to admit, I'm sold. I want this camera. I love the Nikon D700 as well, but the 5D Mark II's higher resolution and surprisingly good video capture put it over the top for me.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
0.3 
0.4 
0.6 
0.3 
Canon EOS 5D
0.2 
0.5 
0.6 
0.3 
Nikon D700
0.2 
0.5 
0.6 
0.3 
Canon EOS 50D
0.2 
0.3 
0.9 
0.4 
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900
0.3 
0.5 
1.2 
0.4 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov. 25, 2008
  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 22.3 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 24 x 36mm